3 secrets of persuasive speakers

What if there was a proven formula that could help you persuade more people than ever before? And what if that same formula could improve your presentation skills to make your delivery more engaging, more compelling and more dynamic?

Imagine what that would do for you.

Over 2,300 years ago, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote about the three secrets used by persuasive speakers. 

His strategies are as true and relevant today as they were in 350 BC. They still form the basis of many public speaking books and persuasion manuals today.

Here’s why.


Great persuaders have a competitive edge

Persuasive presentation skills are essential in business today. They are a key determinant of career success. 

How you say something has so much more impact than the actual words you use. That’s true whether you are speaking in front of a large audience, presenting your product to a prospect or attending an interview.

All great leaders are persuasive speakers. It’s what gets them ahead in business life.

So, how do they do it?

The 3 components of a persuasive presentation

In the 4thcentury B.C. Aristotle distilled his theory on the three persuasive appeals in his book “On Rhetoric”.  In it, he detailed the three essential qualities your presentation needs before your audience will take on board your message.

Aristotle declared that there are three essential building blocks to successful persuasion:

  • Ethos – The trustworthiness and credibility of the speaker
  • Pathos – The degree to which your argument stirs the emotions of the audience
  • Logos – The logical appeal

 Let me elaborate.

Ethos - Trust and credibility

Before your audience buy into your argument, they buy into you. That only happens once they trust you. 

Trust is the vital ingredient in any relationship. 

If your audience perceive your ‘Ethos’ to be high, they’re engaged from the start. They will assume that what you have to say is valuable and worthwhile. They will start with an open mind and are more pre-disposed to what you have to say.

Provided you can still deliver a compelling presentation that is! Here are some superb tips from the world champion of public speaking if you need them.

But here's the catch.

It's your audience that decides whether you are credible and trustworthy. It isn't enough just for you to believe that you are knowledgeable and confident in your subject and honest in your endeavours.

Here are 5 building blocks of trust and credibility.

Sincerity and congruency;

People often sense when speakers say things that are not aligned to what they truly believe. Persuasive speakers maintain consistency with their beliefs and values, even if that means showing some signs of vulnerability. Your audience will like you all the more because of it.


Stick to presenting on subjects where you have genuine knowledge and expertise. This will clearly differentiate you from other presenters. That may involve investing time and effort to become a credible expert.

Similarity to your audience; 

We are much more inclined to believe someone who we think is similar to us. Demonstrating that you are working towards a common purpose will reap enormous dividends. As will focusing your presentation on the audience, their needs and what's important to them. That means using "you" and "your" far more than "I/We/Our/My".


People become anxious about unknowns and often assume the worst when not fully informed. Glossing over potential issues and concerns damages trust. The most persuasive speakers share their thoughts and feelings. Letting people know where they stand allows trust to flourish.

Openness and vulnerability;

If you never admit your mistakes or that you are wrong from time to time you put a strain on your relationships. A timely admission of being wrong with an apology is a powerful weapon in building trust.

“To earn trust, money and power aren’t enough; you have to show some concern for others. You can’t buy trust in the supermarket." 

Pathos - The emotional appeal

Our emotions are such powerful motivators. Whether it's anger, fear, love, resentment or envy, so much of our behaviour is driven by our emotional response.

But how do you tap into people's emotions when presenting?

Here's 3 easy things you can do.

Use stories;

Stories have been a driver of change throughout history. Good stories are compelling. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t. The most persuasive speakers use stories to emotionally connect other people to their agenda. Stories immeasurably improve your presentation. 

Use humour; 

Laughter is a great tension reliever and will often trigger a sense of calmness and friendship with the speaker. When your audience is laughing, they are having fun. If they are having fun, they are happy to be listening to you and you've got their attention.

Use vivid, sensory language and metaphors;

Using sensory details, metaphors and words captivates your audience. Sensory words help you speak with warmth, drawing your audience closer to you. When you use sensory words, your audience feels emotions they have associated with those words. When David Cameron said "red warning lights are once again flashing on the dashboard of the global economy" he was simply using a vivid metaphor to illustrate an issue. No details were required to get people's attention.

Logos - The logical and rational argument

Logical arguments that make sense, backed up with solid evidence, are not easily dismissed.

Whether you like it or not, your audience are constantly evaluating and judging your presentation.

This means that we have to present a rational argument.

Of course, too much emphasis upon detail and facts will switch your audience off.

So, here are 3 tips to create maximum impact with your logical appeal.

Keep it succinct; 

Ruthless prioritisation of your core message with just enough supporting evidence is more engaging and compelling. Persuasive speakers are masters of exclusion. They understand that their audience will never remember 10 key points. They can, however, remember one simple and profound message.

Simple language; 

Use words and phrases that your audience are familiar with. Avoid technical jargon and overly complex explanations. Favour short words and sentances over long and convoluted counterparts. 

Gradual revelation; 

Busy slides will result in the audience reading ahead of the speaker and then switching off. If you must use slides, use gradual disclosure. This means that you build up the entire diagram, chart or bullet points progressively, step by step. If you are using a flip-chart making notes as you speak, you are inherently using progressive disclosure. This is easy to do with PowerPoint too.

Aristotle believed that logos should be the most important of the three persuasive appeals. 

However, Aristotle declared that logos alone is not sufficient. He argued that all three persuasive appeals are necessary.

Is he right? What do you think?

For me, I think that without credibility and trust your audience will not even be prepared to listen to most of what you say. Building credibility and trust is also the element that takes the greatest investment to build and maintain.

About the Author Paul Lucas

For over 20 years, I’ve been helping leaders, managers and sales teams get better results by improving their communication and influencing skills. My training is founded upon extensive research and analysis. Helping you to understand the specific behaviours, techniques and strategies of the world’s best speakers and influencers provides the platform to transform your presentations and sales skills.

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